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"He called me during December," says Favre's older brother, Scott, 43, "and said, 'I'm thinking I can make a 50-yard throw, and then the ball only goes 40.'"
Surgery would revitalize his wing but not quickly enough for him to sign with the Vikings at the start of training camp. "I kept going to the high school [in Hattiesburg] and throwing with the kids," says Favre. "Deanna was saying, 'What are you doing? It's over.' But when Brad called back in the middle of August, my arm felt a lot better." How much better? Vikings wideout Bernard Berrian says, "He's dislocated some fingers around here."
Minneapolis fit the Favres better than New Jersey did. Brett, Deanna, 10-year-old daughter Breleigh and Deanna's mother, Ann Byrd, moved into a rented house five miles from the Vikings' facility in suburban Eden Prairie. (Older daughter Brittany, 20, is in college.) "We were like fish out of water in New Jersey," says Deanna. "Here we picked up where we left off in Green Bay. There's a small-town feel. We just seem to fit in. I feel like God brought us here." On the field Favre also fit in, because Childress, schooled by Andy Reid in Philadelphia, runs a West Coast--based scheme. Reid learned it in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren, Favre's primary mentor.
Consequently Favre has been highly efficient. His 107.2 passer rating this season was the best of his career; his 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions represent his best ratio of TDs to picks. Other contributions have been just as important. "It's amazing what a confident, experienced quarterback does for you," says Hutchinson, who'd blocked for Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte, Brooks Bollinger and Kelly Holcomb in the two seasons before Favre arrived. "Brett is an old guy who has seen it all and done it all. He made this team more complete in every way."
Favre instructed wideouts Rice, 23, and rookie Percy Harvin, 21, to bring their laptops to the facility on Mondays to upload video that they could study at home, and then he taught them how to study. "Early in my career," says Favre, "I'd watch film for three hours because I was told to. But I was just watching the game like a fan. I had no idea what to look for."
Beyond straight game preparation, Favre told Harvin to study video of the Patriots' Wes Welker, to learn the intricacies of playing the slot. "He told me to watch Welker's fundamentals," says Harvin. "Watch the little things he does." Favre worked with tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on sight-adjusting pass routes to beat safeties, and Shiancoe led the Vikings with 11 touchdown catches.
In the locker room Favre brought a daily paradox. He is 40 years old and looks every minute of it, with his gray hair and gray stubble. Yet he acts like he's 13, waiting for teammates to turn their backs so he can smack them painfully on the butt. "He's a goofball," says placekicker Ryan Longwell, Favre's close friend since Longwell was a rookie on the '97 Packers team that went to the Super Bowl. "But now he's a goofball with urgency, because he knows time is running out."
One thing he has not done is socialize off-campus. "Maybe that's part of why I was criticized last year," Favre says. "But I quit drinking 12 years ago, and I found out that I wasn't quite the social guy I thought I was." Now he says he just goes home every night and watches more video.
The Vikings won 10 of their first 11 regular-season games, lost the next three, then finished with a rout of the Giants. They took the NFC North with a 12--4 record—beating the Packers in two emotion-charged games—and got their playoff bye. Favre spent the week off in Mississippi, hunting deer. "I called his cellphone one day," says his brother Scott. "He picks up and whispers 'hello' real quietly, so I said, 'You're in a [deer] stand, aren't you?' He whispers, 'Yeah.' So I figured he was happy."
History waits to fully judge the Minnesota experiment. The Vikings last played in the Super Bowl in January 1977. "Brett really wants a shot at another Super Bowl," says Deanna. "That's what this was all about." But he also wanted the right kind of closure, and even before facing the Cowboys, Favre seemed ready to make a call on that score. "We went 12--4, I played well, even though I showed up late to camp and all the crap that went with it," he said last Thursday. "You can't look into a crystal ball at this point; whatever happens, happens. I sure hope this continues. But boy, it's been pretty darn good."